How To Become A CISO?

Nowadays, cybersecurity is a significant concern for all companies and organizations around the world. And why wouldn’t it be? With the increase in cyberattacks, data breaches have got top-notch business heads and government officials in a knot.

Therefore, there is a rise in demand for CISOs or Chief Information Security Officers to help put security plans into place. Not only do they develop security procedures and policies, but CISOs manage professional analytical teams to remove any cyber threats.

In this article, we are going to discuss all the steps you need to take to become a CISO.

What Is A CISO?


If you are planning to go down this career path, you must know what a chief information security officer does.

To put it simply, a CISO is a high-ranking executive who is responsible for managing the overall security of the whole company. They are tasked with securing the proprietary data, information assets, IT, and intellectual property.

As such, they need to have vast information regarding the company’s security details, policies, and information technology protocols.

CISOs are tasked with recognizing even the smallest weaknesses in the company’s security programs and then, introduce new effective plans to cover all the blind spots. Although the responsibilities of a CISO differ from one company to another, most of them work with other executive teams to develop smart and innovative security procedures.

Along with this, they have to manage all the IT and security personnel, work with various sectors to support a sound IT framework, and find solutions to security issues. Not only do they have to oversee the strategic plans, but they also have to look-after educational and leadership programs too.

As cybersecurity leaders, we have to create our message of influence because security is a culture and you need the business to take place and be part of that security culture.

If you think that a CISO’s job ends here, think again. A chief information security officer has to manage security mishaps, research into new safety plans, oversee updates, and ensure that new company procedures do not compromise the protective policies.

Moreover, a CISO is also responsible for forecasting security budgets, allotting resources, carrying out audits, ensuring proper law practices, and creating appropriate channels for remote workers.

Skill Requirements For A CISO


According to cybersecurity ventures, there will be around 3.5 million available job openings globally for cybersecurity by 2021. If you want to jump into this highly competitive field, you need to be well-prepared beforehand.

Hence, you need to be aware of all the skills that you need at your fingertips to become a CISO.

Compared to other cybersecurity positions, CISO requires much more expertise in security details, information technology, and the vision of the company. Let’s take a look into some of the most important hard and soft skills required to become a CISO.

Risk Management

Since IT security is not self-contained within the company itself, a CISO needs a complete understanding of data flow in the organization. It involves learning about its involvement with third-party vendors, remote works, partners, and other related applications.

As a result, a CISO needs to identify data breaches among the various sectors of a company. Then, they need to lay down concrete security plans to avoid future security threats.

They are responsible for conducting regular audits, preparing reports on breaches, and finding innovative ways to prevent theft, data loss, and threats.

Compliance Management

Just like risk management, a CISO has to dabble in compliance management as well. As mentioned previously, organizations are not self-limited. As such, the duty to ensure that all the departments are following regulations befalls on a CISO.

Therefore, a CISO has to be well-aware of all the standards, regulations, compliance demands, and government requirements needed to be met by an organization.

Besides this, CISOs have to focus on changing regulations like PCI and FINRA, making sure that the company’s policies are compliant with the rules.

IT Expertise

Instead of taking part in the daily execution of security plans, CISO has to look after various IT fields, hold meetings with technical experts, and carry out regular scans for data vulnerability.

As a result, CISO is required to have a long list of technical expertise in various skills. Some of them have been listed below.

  • Developing secure infrastructure
  • Managing remote devices and workers
  • Handling recovery plans
  • Creating a team and plan for crisis management
  • Securing applications and vulnerable database
  • Managing database regularly
  • Enhance firewall and network security
  • Manage identity thefts

Communication Skills

Apart from learning hard skills, a CISO must be well-versed with soft skills for leadership quality. Since a CISO is the top-position in the cybersecurity chain of command, they have to be excellent at communication to work well with executive teams and security personnel working under them.

Therefore, they need to have a good grip on analytical thinking and interpersonal skills to guide and train professionals.

With the amount of responsibility that a CISO has, they need to develop excellent communication skills. It will allow them to interact with technical teams, operational sectors, fellow employees, shareholders, investors, third-party vendors, and partners.

Strong yet efficient communication skills can be the key to becoming a successful CISO of any organization.

How To Become A CISO?


You cannot become a CISO coming right out of college with little-to-no experience in the cybersecurity niche. A potential CISO has to work for several years to gain expert skills, knowledge, as well as education to reach their goals.

To help you out, we are going to discuss some steps you can take over the years to ease yourself into the role of a CISO.

Step1: Education

The first step to reach your career goal is to invest your time in education. To be specific, if you want to obtain the hard skills required in cybersecurity, you need to pursue an undergraduate degree. Your Bachelor’s degree could be in either information technology, computer science, or a similar field.

Such a degree will help you acquire hard skills like programming languages, installing firewalls for security, carrying out scan tests, and working with different operating systems.

Along with this, you will learn how to participate in a group, communicate with your colleagues, and acquire problem-solving skills.

In the case where you want an upper hand on the rest of the competitors, you can always pursue a master’s degree to get an edge over fundamental technical expertise.

Whether you study in a college or take online classes, your degree will require participation in projects, thesis, as well as internships at renowned companies. Here, you will learn a combination of different soft and hard skills that needs to become a CISO.

Step 2: IT Security Experience

It is not an easy job to become a CISO. Not only do you need to put in years of hard work and dedication, but you also need to start from the bottom to reach the top. On average, it takes around seven to ten years of IT experience to become a CISO.

You have to start as an entry-level computer or system analyst, programmer, risk manager, or get experience in information security. These jobs will teach you how to recognize, prevent, and find solutions to data breaches in the company.

Moreover, you learn how to research other security plans and software to strengthen your data framework. Experience achieved during this stage of your career will help you in gaining a management job in the future.

As a mid-level IT professional or a security consultant, you can gain knowledge and polish your leadership as well as technical skills for the future. An aspiring CISO can get an edge by working and gaining experience as a security engineer or auditor.

After this, you should aim for a senior-level position as a project manager, security director, or a security architect. Here, prospects learn to amalgamate leadership, organizational, technical, and managerial knowledge.

As described previously, a master’s degree in business or IT will help you earn managerial positions and boost your earning. Moreover, look for subfields in your Master’s degree to reach your career goal as a top CISO.

Step 3: Certification And Training

To get the upper hand on your colleagues, you need to look for successful ways to enhance your opportunities. Since a CISO requires years of dedication and a wide range of expertise and skill, you should try to complete different certifications to boost your knowledge.

Apart from your degrees, training programs add even more skills to your resume to get an edge over others. You can also look if the CISO position in your company requires any particular certification.

Overall, security-based IT certificates like the ones listed below can help show your commitment and dedication towards the job.

Certified Authorized Professional (CAP)

This certificate will help prove the authorities that you have the skills to manage information and data systems. It teaches you to secure your database, recognize weaknesses, and minimize risks in your security infrastructure.

Moreover, it is inclined towards security professionals using the Risk Management Framework or the RMF in different organizations.

To sign up for this training program, you need at least two years of paid work to gain experience in a couple of the seven main sectors of CAP CBK (Common Body of Knowledge).

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

A globally-renowned IT security certification, CISSP teaches you techniques to implement complex security policies successfully. It is perfect for individuals working as security architects, auditors, system engineers, as well as CISOs.

For this certification, you need specialization in management, system engineering, or architecture. Besides this, you should have a minimum of five years of experience in IT security divisions.

Not only will it help to boost your chance of being a CISO, but it will also teach innovative and advanced techniques to improve your career.

Expected Salary Of A CISO


Since CISO is a top executive position in cybersecurity, you can expect the salary to be to your liking. And why should it not be? You have to dedicate several years of hard work and experience to reach this position.

According to PayScale, a starting CISO earns an average annual salary of over $105,000. On the other hand, CISOs with around one to four years of experience can make approximately $120,000 each year. If you are a CISO with over 10-years of experience, your average salary will be about $161,000 annually.

Keeping in mind that these figures are a minimum estimate, you can earn much more than this depending on your skills, your company, and your experience.


As described in our article, becoming a CISO is not an easy feat. You need to start from the bottom and work your way up, gaining skills ranging from IT security, management, leadership, and communication to achieve your goals.

If you are planning to become a successful CISO, you should prepare yourself for years of dedication and commitment. If you follow all the guidelines mentioned in this article, you will surely reap the benefits in the near future.

Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes is a writer for HKS Siblab, an education and business blog. He has a MSc in Cyber Security & Digital Forensics from the University of Hertfordshire and has been working in the cyber security industry since 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing guitar and spending time with his family.

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